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Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Preview of first-round matchup

Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Playoffs 2017: Preview of first-round matchup

Round One: Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Caps record vs. Toronto this season: 2-1-0

4-2 loss at Toronto on Nov. 26
6-5 overtime win vs. Toronto on Jan. 3
4-1 win at Toronto on April 4

Series schedule

Game 1: April 13 in Washington, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 2: April 15 in Washington, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 3: April 17 in Toronto, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 4: April 19 in Toronto, 7 p.m. on CSN
Game 5 (if necessary): April 21 in Washington, TBD on CSN
Game 6 (if necessary): April 23 in Toronto, TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): April 25 in Washington, TBD on CSN

[Related: 10 best Capitals players of all time]

Offensive preview

It’s no secret how the Maple Leafs got here. With a fantastic collection of young offensive talent, Toronto reached the playoffs a year ahead of schedule. Rookie Auston Matthews is the real deal as he led the team in scoring with 40 goals and 69 points. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were also major contributors with 61 points apiece. That young core mixed with some veteran pieces like James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri helped push the Leafs to 3.05 goals per game, good for fifth in the NHL.

Washington’s offense won’t catch anyone by surprise. In addition to superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps are incredibly deep down the middle with Evgeny Kuznetsov, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle. The Caps boast three lines with scoring talent and can easily roll four lines without fear of a major drop-off from the top unit to the fourth. The Caps finished the season as the NHL’s third highest scoring offense at 3.18 GPG.

Defensive preview

Toronto games were must-watch all season long not just because of their incredible offensive talent, but because no Maple Leafs lead was safe. Toronto gave away two-goal leads like it was going out of style. Defense was a major issue for the Leafs this season as they allowed 2.85 goals per game, the lowest among all playoff teams. By contrast, Washington had the top defense in the NHL, allowing only 2.16 goals against. On 29 other teams, Kevin Shattenkirk would be a top six defenseman. On Toronto, he would be on the top pair. For the Caps, he’s on the third. That just shows you the depth Washington has on the blue line.

Goaltending preview

The Jonathan Bernier, James Reimer tandem was mercifully broken up in Toronto over the offseason as the Leafs traded for Frederik Andersen to step in and be their No. 1. He did not disappoint with a .918 save percentage and 4 shutouts. Of the Leafs’ 40 wins this season, only seven were earned by someone other than Andersen.

While Andersen has proven to be a serviceable starter, his numbers pale in comparison to Braden Holtby, who is proving his Vezina-winning 2015-16 season was no fluke. Incredibly, Holtby surpassed most of his stats from last season including GAA (2.07), save percentage (.925) and shutouts (9).

Special teams preview

As good as the Caps are on the power play, Toronto actually finished with a higher percentage of 23.8 (vs. Washington’s 23.1), good for second in the NHL. Despite their defensive woes, the Leafs even managed a respectable penalty kill with a kill rate of 82.5-percent, 10th in the NHL. The Caps were only marginally better with 83.8-percent on the penalty kill. While Washington’s superiority in offense, defense and goaltending can’t be denied, special teams is actually a push.

Coaching preview

Barry Trotz joined Toronto head coach Mike Babcock’s staff for Team Canada in the World Cup of Hockey in the fall of 2017. These are two coaches who know each other extremely well. That will add an extra element to this matchup as both coaches try to out-fox the other. As good of a coach as Trotz is, he does not boast the same credentials as Babcock who has won a Stanley Cup and reached the Finals three times.

Injury concerns

Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak both suffered injuries in Sunday’s regular season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Neither player was on the ice on Tuesday for Toronto’s practice. Babcock said after Sunday’s game that he did not expected Zaitsev to miss any time so perhaps Tuesday’s absence is just a precaution.

Maple Leafs starting goalie Frederik Andersen did not play on Sunday after taking a heavy hit in Saturday’s game. He did, however, practice on Tuesday.

Tyler Bozak was also absent from practice on Tuesday.

John Carlson missed the last four games of the regular season due to a lower-body injury. On Tuesday when the Caps held their first playoff practice, Carlson was on the ice, but he was not skating with his normal partner Karl Alzner. Instead, he skated on the “fourth pair” with Taylor Chorney. Clearly his status for Thursday’s Game 1 remains in doubt.

Who has the edge?

Washington is better offensively, defensively and in net. Mike Babcock is one of the top coaches in the NHL and Toronto does boast a lot of young talent, but it is not their time yet. The Leafs’ defense will be their downfall in this series.

More Capitals: Bovada releases Stanley Cup odds, Caps are not the favorites

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

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How to watch the IIHF World Championship Finals: Date, Time, TV Channel, Lineups

The 2019 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championship is coming to a close this Memorial Day weekend.

After two weeks, the sixteen team field has been narrowed down to four with the world championship now on the line in Slovakia. 

The two group winners, Canada, the top-ranked team in the world and 26-time IIHF Champions, and Russia, who rolled through the group stage with a 7-0 record and a +29 goal differential, are the favorites. Russia overwhelmingly has played like the best team in Slovakia, outscoring its opponents 40-10 behind Nikita Kucherov's 16 points in eight games.

The Russian/ Soviet Union team is the only team with more titles than the Canadians with 27 (five as Russia, 22 as the Soviet Union). 

Washington Capital Alex Ovechkin is playing for Team Russia. In eight games he's scored two goals and recorded an assist. 

Canada will face off against the Czech Republic, whose only loss came against the Russians in group play, with a spot to the Finals on the line. Russia will play Finland for the last spot in the gold medal match.

Three of the four teams remaining (Russia, Canda, and the Czech Republic) are the winningest teams in the IIHF's history. The four semifinalists have combined to win 67 of the 82 IIHF World Championships.

When is the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will take place at 8:15 p.m. local time (2:15 p.m. ET) on Sunday, May 26. The bronze medal match will precede the gold medal match at 3:45 p.m. local time (9:15 a.m. ET). 

2019 IIHF World Championship Schedule:

There are only four matches left in the 2019 IIHF World Championship. The two semifinals, the bronze medal match, and the gold medal match.

No. 3 Russia vs. No. 5 Finland, 9:15 a.m. ET, May 25
No. 1 Canada vs. No. 6 Czech Republic, 1:15 p.m. ET, May 25

Loser of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Loser of Semifinal No. 2, 9:45 a.m. ET, May 26

Winner of Semifinal No. 1 vs. Winner of Semifinal No. 2, 2:15 p.m. ET, May 26

How to watch or stream the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

All games at the IIHF World Championships will be broadcast on NHL Network.

Who is playing in the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals?

The 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals will be played between the winner of Russia (8-0-0)/ Finland (7-0-1) and Canada (7-1-0)/ Czech Republic (7-0-1).

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF World Championship Finals:

Lineups for the 2019 IIHF Championship Finals will be announced on the morning of May 26. 

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

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The Blues turnaround from last place to the playoffs began with a blowout win over the Caps

When the St. Louis Blues woke up on Jan. 3, they were in dead last in the NHL. A 15-18-4 record gave them 34 points, less than teams like the Los Angeles Kings and the Ottawa Senators who would go on to finish the season as the two worst teams. Yes, St. Louis had played in only 37 games to that point, the fewest in the league, but finding a way to climb back into the playoff hunt seemed daunting and unlikely.

Now the Blues are the Western Conference champions and stand just four wins away from the Stanley Cup.

The Blues have been one of the best stories of the NHL season climbing from last place to the Stanley Cup Final. When looking back at St. Louis’ season, there are several moments one can point to as key moments in the turnaround. Craig Berube replaced Mike Yeo as head coach on Nov. 20 and goalie Jordan Binnington got his first start with the Blues on Jan. 7 and never gave back the crease.

But the turnaround really started on Jan. 3. On that morning, the Blues were in last place. That would be the last day they would find themselves there.

And it all started with a 5-2 win against the Washington Capitals.

On Jan. 3, St. Louis and Washington looked like two teams headed in opposite directions. While the Blues were in last place, the Caps were rolling with a 24-11-3 record, first in the Metropolitan Division. Washington came into St. Louis on a five-game road winning streak. As if that wasn’t enough, the Blues were also without sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

And yet, what looked like an easy win for the Caps turned into anything but. Robert Thomas scored a deflection just four minutes into the game. Washington managed to take a 2-1 lead early in the second, but St. Louis rattled off four straight goals for the 5-2 win. With Washington down only 3-2 heading into the third period, the Blues but on a possession clinic outshooting Washington 14-2 in the final frame.

"We stayed aggressive," Alex Pietrangelo told reporters. "When we're playing in the O zone, the best way to play defense is to play in their end. We kept the puck, we moved the puck, we worked. Forwards were great tonight, protecting the center of the ice. It kind of took their playmakers out of the game."

The Caps’ first shot came 13 minutes into the third. By then, the Blues already had 12 shots and two goals.

Over the course of an 82-game season, teams will lose games against teams they shouldn’t. This felt different. Watching this game, you did not come away thinking the Caps played down to an inferior team. The Blues dominated that game and the Caps knew it.

“They were skating, competing harder, won races, more determined than we were,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “If we’re being honest about it, we didn’t have a very good game, and they played a pretty darn good game.”
More importantly, St. Louis realized it as well. They knew following the game that this was a win and a performance they could build on.

“I think we out-chanced them, so we're building here at even strength,” Pietrangelo said. “It's just a matter of keeping it at even strength and scoring goals. Tonight the goals weren't necessarily pretty but we created a lot of chances."
That night proved to be the first night of the turnaround. From Jan. 3 on, no team in the NHL earned more points than St. Louis’ 65, not even the Tampa Bay Lightning who won the Presidents’ Trophy with an incredible 128 points.

St. Louis was not expected to be bad this season. The team made a number of offseason moves to bolster the roster and many thought they could be real contenders, but they sure did not play like it through the first half of the season. It took a big win over the defending Stanley Cup champs to show them and everyone else just how good they really were. From that point on, they never looked back.